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Pitching in for humanity

Crowdfunding at ASU a promising platform.
Another thing ASU excels at: Crowdfunding for its community.
February 16, 2016

ASU's crowdfunding platform a model of success that allows its community to chase dreams

Trends come and go in the ever-flowing, amorphous realm of online evolution. But for every MySpace or Napster, there are Internet innovations that have real staying power.

Case in point, crowdfunding. The communal way to raise money via online donations has become a staple of this digital era. Whether through well-branded nodes like Kickstarter or lesser-known sites, crowdfunding has allowed dreams with grand visions but limited funds to get the capital to pursue innovation.

At Arizona State University crowdfunding comes via PitchFunder, a portal run by the ASU Foundation for a New American University that allows students, professors, faculty or alumni to raise money for passion projects or charitable works. And like many things at ASU, PitchFunder is facilitating in a way that’s exceeding expectations.

In the three years since its launch PitchFunder is responsible for funding more than 50 goodwill campaigns and more than $250,000 in charitable contributions. But to better appreciate the nuances of PitchFunder you have to dial into the details, a bit.

For instance, less than 10 percent of all crowdfunding campaigns raise more than $500. PitchFunder campaigns average approximately $5,000 per fundraising cycle. It’s one reason why Evernote named ASU's PitchFunder one of the best university crowdfunding platforms in the U.S., alongside similar efforts at institutions like Carnegie Mellon, Cornell and the University of California, Berkeley.

“Crowdfunding aligns very well with the ASU design of providing access to individuals but also educational access to unique opportunities,” said Shad Hanselman, assistant vice president of development advancement in the ASU Foundation, who helped to develop PitchFunder in April 2013.

“What makes us different is that we provide teams of campaign and account managers who are experts in crowdfunding and will teach groups how to successfully raise money from beginning to end,” Hanselman said. “What’s most beneficial to our students after they graduate is that this teaches them how to do cold-calling, outreach and how to build a program. It helps to further the mission in a million little ways.”

For 33 Buckets, an ASU-based organization started in 2011, the mission is simple: bring clean drinking water to school-aged children in Bangladesh and empower communities to develop a solution to water sources that are tainted with arsenic.

33 Buckets believes it can not only solve the water problem but prop up local economies through an innovative filter system that cleans water for the school systems who in turn sell and distribute the water to businesses and the surrounding communities.

Vid Micevic, a 22-year-old senior studying sustainable engineering in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineers and member of 33 Buckets, said his organization raised $10,000 through crowdfunding.

“We were already asking family members and friends for money and when the public saw what we were doing, they donated as well,” Micevic said. “PitchFunder was so gracious and kind with their time and took us step-by-step through the process. There’s no way we could have done this without them.”

33 Buckets will expand its operations this year and visit Monte Plata in the Dominican Republic where the group will partner with a locally-based organization called Schools for Sustainability. The two will help the community wean off cave water dependence, rid water of E. coli and other forms of bacteria and potentially save 1,110 lives from water-borne illnesses. Furthermore, they believe 200,000 people will have access to clean water in 10 years.

The International Service Devils, another group that focuses on the improvement of the worldwide community, has used PitchFunder to secure its service trips. In the past the group has visited and worked in Costa Rica, Guatemala and India through a company called Dream Volunteers. The Service Devils do everything from laying concrete and bricks to teaching math and English and volunteering in a multitude of local events set up through Changemaker CentralChangemaker Central at ASU is a community of like-minded students that are leading social change in our local and global community. .

This year the Service Devils will be going back to Costa Rica and travelling to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to establish a basic healthcare and education program for future service groups. The group will also be working with two orphanages — one fostering all boys and the other catering to children with HIV/AIDS.

“We have used PitchFunder as our primary source of fundraising for the last three academic years and the program itself, along with the people who have supported our fundraiser, has been wonderful,” said Kali Richmond, a 21-year-old senior and Service Devil who will graduate in May. “It takes work from each and every member of our organization to reach out to all the possible donors, but it is worth it in the end.”

The Graphic Design Student Association uses PitchFunder in a different way. The association takes an annual trip each spring break to large U.S. cities looking to pair its members with internship opportunities. Last year the association raised $7,000 to travel 52 students to Chicago. This year it has raised $10,000 and is taking 33 members to New York City.

“As anyone who has ever booked hotel rooms and flights to big cities would know, these trips are not cheap,” said Lauren Bailey, a 22-year-old Visual Communication Design major in the Herberger Institute for the Design and Arts. “These trips allow us to visit and tour design studios, which will put us in a competitive position for prospective internships and post-grad opportunities.”

Hanselman said because PitchFunder has the stamp of approval from the university, it makes it easier for contributors because the donation is considered charitable. According to Hanselman, 95 percent of the money raised by PitchFunder goes toward the organization while the university takes a 5 percent cut to pay for costs.

“It puts us as one of the better deals in crowdfunding and we really believe in this,” Hanselman said. “The Foundation has given us a way to build this out as a service to the community and everyone benefits.”

Currently, PitchFunder can host about 10 campaigns at once. The plan is to increase this number to 50 so more people at ASU can finance their great ideas.

Top photo: Children in Bangladesh drink water that has been cleaned or secured for them by the 33 Buckets student group.

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU prof studies similarities in land stewardship around the globe.
What's the same in Nepal and Arizona? Land stewards caring for livestock.
February 17, 2016

ASU's Abby York studies commonalities of land stewardship and livestock management around the world

Abby York grew up in Wisconsin, on land where her family has operated a dairy farm since the 1800s.

As a kid, community was synonymous with family, and this had a critical impact on her worldview. York didn’t know it at the time, but being surrounded by people who valued place, community, land and livelihood was the ideal training ground for her future career as an environmental social scientist.

“In retrospect, my entire academic career has been shaped by a preoccupation with the land and how local communities collectively manage it,” said the School of Human Evolution and Social ChangeThe School of Human Evolution and Social Change is the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. associate professor. Whether in places like Nepal or here in Arizona, YorkAbby York is also director of the environmental social science graduate program. explores how communities and institutions have provided goods like water, agriculture and natural resources throughout history and in modern times, working with both natural and social scientists from a variety of disciplines in order to gain a broader, more informed perspective on these issues.

Abby York

“Typically, when I get a chance to talk with someone who works the land, I feel at home finding common ground whether in Arizona or halfway around the world,” said York, pictured at left.

One of York’s current projects involves community forestry governance, or how local people manage the surrounding forest and its resources, in Chitwan, Nepal. Specifically, the project examines communities’ ability to deal with Mikania micrantha, an invasive plant species.

“Our work focuses on communities that are near the Chitwan National Park, which is a critical habitat for several species, including endangered animals like the one-horned rhino and the Bengal tiger,” York said. “I’m leading the effort to investigate local community forestry governance capacity to tackle this complex situation.”

Closer to home, York studies the vulnerability of Arizona’s agriculture and farmers to climate change, as well as the effects of urbanization in Arizona, which she examines alongside the Central Arizona Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research program.

York has found both similarities and differences in Nepal and Arizona communities’ natural resource governance.

In Nepal, households are shifting from subsistence to industrial agriculture, or they are seeking opportunities away from the farm and migrating to other parts of Asia. In her study area of Chitwan, most households are still involved in farming, at least for household use.

In Arizona, the number of independent farmers who work their own land is growing smaller. Most agriculture is intensive and done through large, family-owned corporations.

The two groups share some similar concerns when it comes to wildlife governance. Jaguars are found in southern Arizona, wolves to the east, and mountain lions throughout the state, which create worry over livestock loss and human-wildlife conflict. Likewise, the tiger and rhino populations of Chitwan cause significant losses of livestock and even human life.

“In both places, there are sometimes tense conversations about what costs should be borne by individuals and households to preserve these important species and how society compensates communities that live with these risks,” York said.

There is a marked distinction, however, between the two communities’ attitude toward the land,  she said.

“The cosmology of the West is quite different than that of the East, where ideas from Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as indigenous animistic religious beliefs, lead to different views of nature, animals and human responsibilities towards other living things. In the West, most families engaged in agriculture have a decidedly utilitarian view.”

Another difference between the two regions is how they are affected by climate change. In Nepal, changing weather patterns are leading to an increased risk of flooding. Many communities are near major rivers that flow from the Himalayas, and with heavier rains suffer loss of human life and major damage to infrastructure. This alters the timing of irrigation and agricultural practices in this farming region, as well as the abundance of forest resources.

Arizona is experiencing the opposite problem — an extended drought and shifting rainfall patterns. The impact on agricultural communities has been minimized by Arizona’s extensive irrigation systems and water policies, but there are predictions that within the next 20 years, this buffer will be gone due to reduced access to water from the Colorado River. Ranching communities are already seeing some negative effects of climate change in the quality of the grasslands.

“Although there is great uncertainty associated with exactly how the climate will change, agricultural communities throughout the world are typically working at the margins, whether in terms of revenues or weather,” York said. “Even small changes have big impacts.”

The most crucial ingredient to these communities’ success is one that they have in common: in both places, there are strong efforts to collectively organize the provision of public goods to rural communities.

In southern Arizona, ranchers have collaborated with environmentalists to conserve wildlife, open spaces and opportunities for ranching. In Nepal, communities have come together to gain legal access to the forest, manage its resources and petition the government for compensation due to wildlife conflict or natural disaster.

According to York, “People can self-organize under the right conditions, and in both regions there is evidence of the efficacy of these efforts to conserve the environment and natural resources.”

Written by Mikala Kass,